There are games that give up their story easily, allowing you to sit back and enjoy the twists and turns of their drama as you play. Then there are games like Between Me and the Night, the new adventure from indie outfit Raindance LX. Recently released from Steam’s Early Access program, Between Me and the Night’s story is told almost exclusively through silent, surreal scenes and tasks the player with piecing together the pieces of the puzzle to work out their own take on what happens. It’s not a new idea by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a good one nonetheless.
The interesting thing about this game is that it mixes two gameplay styles that really ought not to go together. One part point and click puzzler, one part action adventure, Between Me and the Night sees you taking on the role of a young boy as he tries to avoid the ghosts in his house, but there really is much more to it than that, and the less you know, the better. As you progress through the game, you will begin to form your own theories about the story and, by the end, you will be questioning those theories. It’s a legitimate storytelling technique and it works well here, possibly leading you to replay the game in order to answer those questions you may have.
The point and click part of the game is quite straightforward, as you wander around the levels, attempting to find the items required to solve each puzzle. Most are simple enough, but there are a few obtuse ones that make little sense and offer no explanation or direction whatsoever. Mid-chapter saving is not a feature either, meaning you can’t come back later without having to redo the entire level. It’s not exactly fast paced, so it can take a while to get back to where you were. It’s also still quite a buggy experience after leaving Early Access, with some events not triggering, meaning you’ll miss important plot points, and only a level restart will solve this.
During the first sequence, you will also have to avoid the ghosts in the house. Do these ghosts represent something psychological? Just one of the many questions that will come to mind as you play. There is a day/night cycle that affords you time to solve puzzles uninterrupted during the day, but once night descends and the lights start to go out, you are forced to switch lights on in order to distract any ghosts that may find you. It adds an extra dimension to the gameplay and a layer of atmosphere to proceedings, especially as you’ll hear them scuttling around before you see them. It brings to mind Neverending Nightmares, only without the unnecessary gore and with less punishment upon being caught, as you’re just sent back to your bedroom with no loss of progression. On one or two occasions however, it did feel a little cheap when a ghost materialised without warning, gobbling me up and sending me back up to my room in frustration.
Between the point and click sequences you are transformed into a suspiciously familiar knight, looking almost identical to something from Dark Souls, and are sent to explore a strange and fantastical side-scrolling world. This world comes with its own dangers in the form of more Dark Souls-looking monstrous warriors, you must defeat these using a surprisingly robust combat system. You can block attacks with your shield or roll to avoid them altogether – wait, this sounds familiar again – before unleashing your own attacks with swings of your sword. As with the point and click sections, the punishment is minimal even when you’re surrounded by several monsters here, as your knight can take a fair few hits, allowing you to easily emerge victorious. That’s where it distances itself from From Software’s brutal behemoth.
Full controller support ensures that both styles of gameplay are playable with minimal fuss, from the combat to the discovery of items. On an Xbox 360 controller, simply hold the right bumper and move the cursor with the analog stick in order to pick up and use items, while the X button runs and the A button interacts with certain objects like light switches. In combat, the right bumper acts as a lock-on and A is attack, X is roll and B is added for blocking. Sharing the same basic control layout across both gameplay modes means that they become second nature very quickly, leaving you to concentrate on the story and action without having to think about any extraneous buttons.
Between Me and the Night has some glorious visuals on offer with its simple but effective art direction. It may look like a Flash game at a glance, but there’s so much depth that the house really feels like a home and is filled with items to support this. The plastic soldiers and toys left dotted around the place lend it character, as does the shed full of tools and junk, and the garage stuffed with boxes that surround the simple, functional car, it all speaks to everyone on some level. The art direction is supported by sound design that adds even more depth to a game already waist-deep, with memorable and sometimes haunting music, and some sinister sounds that will strike fear into the hearts of many (the ‘key keeper’ springs to mind).
The art, sound, gameplay and controls all come together to form a wonderful and compelling experience that will last around 2-3 hours on the first play, adding extra for those wanting to go back and pick up achievements or to find the answers to those post-ending questions. The story, although good, could definitely have benefited from a little more direction in both storytelling and gameplay, especially when you’re left scratching your head over a particular puzzle for an unreasonably long time, and those progress-halting bugs are in need of fixing, but none of that detracts from an undeniably intriguing game.
While not hitting the heights of Gone Home or Journey in terms of intelligent storytelling or emotional impact, nor reaching the quality of the original Broken Sword’s point and click gameplay and puzzles, Between Me and the Night is a thought-provoking experience nonetheless. It does feel like it was intended as quite a personal piece, but its more dramatic notes never really hold any weight due to the clumsy game direction. It perhaps stretches itself a little thin too, by spreading itself across multiple gameplay styles and not quite polishing either one enough to stand out from the crowd. It’s a shame, as it’s a genuinely good game but with more time spent on its storytelling and direction, it could have been an excellent game.
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